Wednesday, December 4 by JerryFoster
To learn to love our traffic engineers, we must understand why they prioritize cost least when designing roadway improvements. Cost varies a lot – $1M / lane mile is a general rule of thumb, but the NJ Turnpike’s current expansion costs $14.7M / lane mile and Boston’s Big Dig cost $136.2M / lane mile.
Standard engineering practice is to build for more speed, which means more and wider lanes, plus expanded roadside sight distances, which may require purchasing right-of-way, etc., all adding to the cost. Also, engineers are required to forecast volume 20 years into the future and build for anticipated increases.
But other factors are at work – e.g. a 1961 bridge in Washington State cost $159M in today’s dollars, but the replacement is projected to cost $4.6B, including 2 additional lanes.
This dramatic $4B increase over inflation points to issues on the process, financial and political sides, including the revolving door between government and private industry, politicians’ dependence on corporate contributions to get re-elected, government dependence on borrowing to finance road projects, even “commonplace” corruption, according to a New York State report.
If nobody has an incentive and/or is held accountable for cost containment, neither politicians nor engineers, it’s easy to see why it’s not a priority.
We’ve finished examining how citizens prioritize safety, cost, volume and speed differently than traffic engineers, so our next installment will look at one reason engineers use to convince us that they know best – because of the standards.
Wednesday, November 27 by JerryFoster
Rt 571 Concept Illustration
Not only do traffic engineers prioritize safety lower than residents, the designs that supposedly increase safety cause more death and destruction. Why? Because motorists behave differently than engineers expect.
In 2012, there were 33,561 traffic fatalities, including 4743 pedestrians and 726 cyclists.
Traffic engineers’ safety improvements include paving wider lanes and shoulders, removing roadside trees, straightening tight curves, etc. According to AASHTO standards, “every effort should be made to use as high a design speed as practical to attain a desired degree of safety.”
Traffic engineers believe that designing for high speed will provide safety.
The crash data, however, show “wider lanes and shoulders were associated with statistically significant increases in crash frequencies.”
Noland reports that traditional “road ‘safety improvements’ actually lead to … increases in total fatalities and injuries,” because “this type of approach tends to ignore behavioural reactions to safety improvements”.
Dumbaugh reports that “a behavior-based understanding of safety performance is supported by research and literature in the field of psychology, which has focused on the subject of traffic safety as a means for understanding how individuals adapt their behavior to perceived risks and hazards.”
Marohn calls the traditional approach to safety “professional malpractice”.
Despite WWBPA recommendations, the design for Rt 571 in downtown West Windsor follows the traditional approach – 45mph design speed, another lane and wide shoulders – all in the name of bicycle and pedestrian safety.
We’ve seen that traffic engineers might improve safety by becoming better social scientists. Before following that, however, our next installment of Learning to Love Your Traffic Engineer will look at cost.
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Wednesday, November 20 by JerryFoster
Unlike residents, our traffic engineers prioritize speed and volume over safety and low cost – why? It’s how they were trained.
We’re long past the era where roads provide orders-of-magnitude improvement, e.g. from walking to motoring, but policy still encourages speeding, e.g., engineers design for 5-10mph over posted speed, so 74% of drivers on Rt 1 in Plainsboro exceeded the speed limit recently.
Going faster means getting there faster, right? Only if you’re on the mythical open road – in densely populated New Jersey, we have traffic.
Speed can work against getting there faster in traffic, since cars stay further apart – the best volume throughput is at 30-46mph. Improved signal coordination and speed harmonization allow people to get there faster even though they’re going slower, by delaying the onset of stop-and-go congestion.
Historically, traffic increased year after year, but in 2004 per capita volume (vehicle miles traveled) declined (!), followed in 2007 by a total volume decline as the recession took hold. Though the Great Recession ended June 2009, total volume remains at recession levels, and per capita volume continues to slide.
Is it the end of “build it and they will come”? If so, engineers will have one more reason to change their priorities. In our next installment of Learning to Love Your Traffic Engineer we’ll look at safety.
Wednesday, November 13 by JerryFoster
It’s hard to learn to love our traffic engineers – they don’t see the same world we do, and don’t want to talk about it. Why not? Have you been to a public meeting?
The public has issues – many residents have not learned to disengage knee-jerk thinking, do their homework or propose constructive suggestions. Some are hostile to any government action, including road projects.
We choose to live in West Windsor because of the promise of safety, good schools, open space and convenient train commuting. We love our cars, but don’t want traffic in our neighborhoods.
Charles Marohn, an engineer and planner, identifies the different values of residents and engineers. In order, residents prioritize safety, low cost, traffic volume and speed, while engineers prioritize speed, volume, safety and cost.
Value divergence shows in the effort to improve walking and biking along Cranbury Road. Despite WWBPA recommendations, residents’ public comments and numerous yard signs asking motorists to Drive 25, traffic calming was rejected as a project goal.
We’re determined to learn to love our engineers, so in our next installment we’ll focus on the most divergent values – speed and volume.
Wednesday, November 6 by JerryFoster
New Jersey traffic engineers don’t see suburbs, destroy downtowns with arterials and have refused to adopt road designs for neighborhoods. How will we learn to love them?
We have to understand that traffic engineers love solving problems, just not social problems. They’ll design how to move cars through an intersection, but not how to preserve or create a downtown, increase property values or reduce pollution – yet the intersection design can affect all these other goals, positively or negatively.
Although we’ve been building roads for millennia, we’re just realizing how motor vehicle traffic affects society. Using a computer analogy, traffic engineering is moving from the green screen to the graphical user interface – people want a richer experience, including multiple ways to get where we’re going.
Traffic engineers must learn to see themselves as social scientists, concerned with how people in addition to motorists interact with the roadways – residents, runners, dog-walkers, cyclists, etc.
People are puzzling – we love our cars, but hate traffic – how can engineers solve the dilemma? Find out in the next installment of Learning to Love Your Traffic Engineer – What the Public Wants.
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Wednesday, October 30 by JerryFoster
In our previous posts, we’ve seen that traffic engineers see urban where we see suburban or rural, and destroy downtowns by putting fast and wide arterials through them. As a result, conversations between residents and engineers are fraught with possible misunderstandings, making it very difficult to find the love.
Fortunately, this problem is well known, so the traffic engineering profession (Federal Highway Administration) developed Context Sensitive Solutions, to “develop a transportation facility that fits its physical setting and preserves scenic, aesthetic, historic and environmental resources, while maintaining safety and mobility.” In other words, it encourages engineers to see farms and neighborhoods where we already see them, and to build appropriate roads for those places.
NJDOT and PennDOT even published the Smart Transportation Guidebook in 2008, which provides flexible roadway designs, e.g. for a community collector through a suburban neighborhood, 100% compatible with existing design standards (the flexibility was already there, who knew).
Problem solved? Not quite – NJDOT didn’t adopt the principles and practices in the Smart Transportation Guidebook. Why not, and how can we learn to love our traffic engineers if we can’t even agree on neighborhoods? Stay tuned for the next installment – Social Scientist.
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Wednesday, October 23 by JerryFoster
The last installment showed that traffic engineers see West Windsor’s roads as urban, even when bordered by farms. To learn to love them, we need to speak their language, so let’s look at the roadway functional hierarchy. Arterials are major roads, Local roads are self descriptive, and Collector roads connect them.
So what? Each type has its own design, e.g. nobody would live on an interstate, the design precludes driveways.
Let’s look at our Principal Arterials – US 1, Princeton Hightstown Road (CR 571) in downtown West Windsor and Nassau Street (SR 27) in downtown Princeton. How can such different roads be considered the same? Traffic engineers don’t see places, but they do identify “traffic generators”. Downtowns aren’t relevant, except that they generate enough traffic to warrant an arterial to connect them.
As traffic engineers “improve” CR571 and SR27 to design standards like Route 1, they destroy the places they don’t recognize, favoring getting through over getting to a place. It’s up to residents to demand local arterials that preserve places for people.
Traffic engineers are an enigma – they don’t see suburbs or downtowns, and destroy the places they don’t see. How will we learn to love them? Find out in the next installment – Context Sensitive Solutions.
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Wednesday, October 16 by JerryFoster
Don’t we live in the suburbs? Wouldn’t it be nice if there were Complete Streets designs that could make suburban living even better – for motorists, cyclists, walkers, runners, children and seniors?
Consider the suburbs from the point of view of the traffic engineer. After all, the invention of the automobile made the suburbs available to so many people over the last half century, so traffic engineers are largely responsible for how we suburbanites live so much of our lives.
As it turns out, traffic engineers don’t see suburbs, sort of like Stephen Colbert doesn’t see race. The traffic engineering world is governed by urban or rural designs only, and what we think of as suburban is by definition urban.
What about our farms, like all along Windsor Road – rural, right? Sorry, the region’s population, not just the adjacent properties’, determine that all our roads are urban, since we’re in an urban area as defined by the Census Bureau (generally, over 5000 people).
So the first step in learning to love your traffic engineer is to see West Windsor from their big picture point of view – urban.
Stay tuned for our next installment of Learning to Love Your Traffic Engineer – Collect Local Arterials.
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Tuesday, September 17 by JerryFoster
WWBPA volunteers counted 334 bicyclists and pedestrians at 5 locations around the train station on Wednesday September 11, 2013 between 5-8pm. Last year the count was 355, but the numbers are not directly comparable, since we counted for an hour longer at 2 locations this year. Comparing the same locations at the same time slots, biking and walking decreased 15% over last year. In contrast to the past 2 years’ beautiful fall weather, this year the day was hot and humid, near 90 degrees, as well as falling on the anniversary of 9/11.
Once again we participated in the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project, an effort to accurately and consistently measure usage and demand for bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure.
Our 2013 findings:
- Cranbury/Wallace/571 (Rite Aid) – 19 bike, 81 walk
- Scott/Alexander (Arts Center) – 30 bike, 72 walk, 2 others
- Vaughn/Alexander (bus stop) – 18 bike, 55 walk
- Station/571 (Rep. Holt Headquarters) – 10 bike, 9 walk
- Wallace/Alexander (WW lot) – 12 bike, 23 walk, 3 other
Total: 334 people, 89 who bike, 240 who walk, 5 on wheelchairs, skates or scooters
Thanks to our volunteers!
Traffic along 571 in downtown West Windsor flowed freely throughout the observation time. This is consistent with the comment made recently by the township’s consulting traffic engineer, that volume along CR571 has been flat for a decade. In addition, the retiming of the lights at US1 and CR571, together with the reopening of the jughandles, ensures that not many cars can make it through 571 at the circle, so motorists find other routes.
- midblock crossings of 571 at Rite Aid driveway – 12
- male – 222, female – 107 (“Other” gender data not collected)
- walkers – 240, cyclists – 89
One scary anecdote – traffic turning from Wallace onto CR571 was polite to the pedestrian crossing in the crosswalk, waiting until she had walked far enough so they could turn behind her into the right lane. Traffic turning left onto CR571 from Cranbury Rd was not so polite, seeing an opening to turn into the left lane but not seeing the pedestrian. Fortunately, the 2nd car making the left did see the pedestrian and stopped, as she had stopped in the middle to barely avoid being hit by the first left-turning car. It is exactly this sort of danger that leads many to cross at the driveways of PNC Bank and RiteAid, where the road narrows.
This sort of conflict should not be possible, and several alternate solutions are available – a left turn only phase at the light, a pedestrian only phase, or closing the right lane at 571, making one through lane, effectively narrowing the pedestrian crossing distance in addition to reducing the left-turning conflict. What do you think?
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Wednesday, July 31 by ezeitler
Residents of Cranbury Rd and others concerned about safe streets for children, pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers came to the West Windsor Township council meeting on July 22nd to show support for sidewalks on Cranbury Rd. Organizing the group has been Sarah Thomson and Samirah Akhlaq-Rezvi, two residents of Cranbury Rd. At the meeting, a number of residents shared stories of unsafe conditions on the road and their call for sidewalks to build a safer, healthier and more community oriented street. Members of the West Windsor Bicycle and Pedestrian Alliance were on hand to support the residents.
The concerns of the residents were heard by the Council. All five council members voiced support for sidewalks on Cranbury Rd and for funding an engineering study to see what options are available. The Township is also interested in applying for a competitive state grant to fund the sidewalks. Some council members agreed that due to the urgency of the issue, there is sufficient funding in the capital budget to build sidewalks even before a grant from the state is approved. Mark Shallcross was present to photograph all the folks speaking as well as the great signs they brought! The meeting and organizing have been covered by the West Windsor Plainsboro News in this past weekend’s paper.
Do you support sidewalks on Cranbury Rd? There are a number of ways you can help to make sidewalks happen.
Attend: There will be a public meeting with Mayor Hsueh to discuss Township and community plans for sidewalks at 10 AM on Saturday, Aug 10th at the Municipal Building at the corner of Clarksville and North Post Roads. All are encouraged to come to the meeting to show their support and maintain the momentum for action.
Write: Sarah and Samirah are seeking volunteers to write letters describing concerns about safety on Cranbury Rd and support for sidewalks to accompany the Township’s grant application to the state. These can be emailed to the WWBPA and we will pass them along to Sarah and Samirah for inclusion in the Township’s application. We can also pass along your info to Sarah and Samirah if you’d like to get more involved with the community group organizing for sidewalks on Cranbury Rd.
Photos by Mark Shallcross.